‘We have no voice’: Christians in Jordan 2 years after fleeing N. Iraq
Questions for Written Answer
Tabled on 18 July and due for answer by 1 August.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to participate in the conference about the attacks on Yazidis, Christians and others by ISIS organised by the US State Department in Washington DC on 29 July; if so, who will represent them and whether whilst attending that conference they will explain why they have not supported the genocide declarations passed by the House of Commons and the US Congress. HL1254
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they now recognise that a genocide is underway against minorities in Syria and Iraq; and whether the opinion set out in The Sunday Telegraph on 27 March that ISIS “are engaged in what can only be called genocide of the poor Yazidis” by the new Foreign Secretary reflects their official position. HL1255
Early Day Motion 346 Tabled in the House of Commons
- RECOGNITION OF GENOCIDE BY DAESH
- Date tabled:07.2016
- Primary sponsor: Bruce, Fiona
- That this House expresses profound concern that, despite voting 279 in favour and none against the motion calling on the Government to refer genocidal atrocities of Daesh to the United Nations Security Council on 14 April 2016, still, no such referral has been made; recalls the words of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in an article in the Telegraph on 27 March 2016, that “Daesh are engaged in what can only be called genocide of the poor Yazidis, though for some baffling reason the Foreign Office still hesitates to use the term genocide”; and calls on the Government to ensure that the unanimous will of Parliament is implemented with urgency.
Falling for ISIS Propaganda about Christians
An influential international body endorses the discredited claim that ISIS wants to protect Christians—not commit genocide against them.
That Middle Eastern Christians—along with Yazidis and others—face genocide by ISIS was officially recognized earlier this year in a designation of the U.S. Secretary of State, and in resolutions of both Houses of Congress. Yet, a prominent international voice is now denying this, asserting that ISIS, rather than aiming to eradicate Christians, offers to protect and respect them through a traditional Islamic tax option, or jizya. These findings seem preposterous to anyone familiar with ISIS’s worldview—recall the 2015 ISIS videos of its beheadings of the Coptic Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Libya. Nevertheless, they are gaining traction to the detriment of the affected Christian communities and to the world’s understanding of ISIS’s ideology.
In a June 15 report concerning ISIS’s genocide in Iraq’s Nineveh Province, a small but highly influential international group, the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, insists that ISIS does not intend to destroy the Christian community, which would mean that, under the genocide convention, the terror group has not waged genocide on that minority. The report confidently declares that ISIS unconditionally recognizes Christians’ “right to exist as Christians,” including those within its territory, “as long as they pay thejizya tax,” because, it suggests, the terror group respects Christians (and presumably Jews) as “People of the Book.” Another unsubstantiated and insupportable claim is that there are “Christian communities still living in ISIS-controlled territory.” The report even denies that the ISIS attacks against the Christian minority are religious, asserting instead a political motivation for its violence against that minority—to punish them for getting too close to “non-aligned forces.”
Apart from its footnote-free, summary conclusion, the Commission report, entitled “They came to destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis, is silent on the Christians. Here is the conclusion in its entirety:
While the Christian communities still living in ISIS-controlled territory live difficult and often precarious existences, are viewed with suspicion, and are vulnerable to attack if ISIS perceive they are seeking protection from non-aligned forces, their right to exist as Christians within any Islamic state existing at any point in time is recognised as long as they pay the jizya tax: Under ISIS’s radical interpretation of Islam, however, it is impermissible for Yazidis to live as Yazidis inside its so-called caliphate because they are not People of the Book.
As it pertains to the Christians, this conclusion is demonstrably false. No one denies that the Yazidis face ISIS genocide but the idea that “Christians and Jews” do not because they have ISIS’s respect as “People of the Book” first surfaced in a report by the U.S. Holocaust Museum genocide prevention office during thedebate leading up to the official U.S. genocide designation last winter and was refuted by the evidence then. Its adoption by the Commission now gives what is essentially unexamined ISIS propaganda new currency in international circles, with significant implications.
Internationally, the Commission is considered a highly respected authority. It was established in 2011 by the United Nations Council on Human Rights to advise the world’s preeminent human-rights body. It counts among its four commissioners such notables as Karen Koning AbuZayd, an American who served for as Deputy Commissioner General of UNRWA, a controversial UN body for Palestinian refugees with a reputation, including under her leadership, of abetting Holocaust denial and Hamas terror, but which allowed her to obtain the rank of UN Under Secretary General of the UN.
Already the research library of the British Parliament has cited the Commission as its principal source on the plight of Christians in ISIS’s territory, and adopted the Commission’s conclusion in the library’s July 15, 2016 briefing paper on “Religious Persecution in the Middle East.” If allowed to stand unchallenged, the Commission’s conclusion can be anticipated to influence policymaking within and outside the United Nations.
A review of the evidence and interviews with the Christian leaders directly involved reveals that ISIS’ claims of a jizya option are a deception and a propaganda ploy. ISIS’s demands for payments, which it calls “jizya,” are actually examples of extortion. Under traditional Islam, there was a conceptual distinction between the two that made an enormous difference for the survival non-Muslim minorities.
Under what is called the Pact of Omar (named after a 7th-century Caliph), there was an arrangement for coexistence with Jews and Christians as respected “People of the Book.” Men or their community paid a progressive tax, or jizya, in exchange for the protection of their families’ lives and property and for their religious rights. They did not have religious freedom, were harshly discriminated against, and were compelled to adhere to Muslim mores in ways would be seen today as flagrant human-rights violations. Yet for 1,300 years, from the Muslim conquest of the region in the 7th century until the mid- 19th, Christianity was practiced and perpetuated in this region under such arrangements.
ISIS has never offered a traditional jizya option to any of these Christians, at any time. Neither protection nor religious rights are assured under the pseudo-caliphate of the Islamic State. Today there is a complete absence anywhere in ISIS-controlled territory of functioning churches, active clergy, and intact Christian communities. As shown below, in the three major areas—Nineveh, Raqqa and Qaryatayn—where ISIS claims to have “offered a jizya option,” the offer has always, within a short time, been followed by the rape, murder, kidnapping, enslavement, and dispossession of Christians—all acts evidencing the crime of genocide.
Nineveh Province, Iraq
On July 17, 2014, twelve days before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his caliphate from Mosul, the capital of Nineveh Province, ISIS first raised thejizya issue in Iraq. The group summoned Mosul’s Christian leaders to the city’s civic center purportedly to set out its demands. The Reverend Emanuel Adelkello, a priest with the Syriac Catholic Church (the largest in Northern Iraq) had direct dealings with ISIS on behalf of the Christian community. He wrote to me that the Christian leaders throughout Nineveh consulted among themselves and decided it was a “trap.” Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshi wrote that it required too great a leap of faith: They could “never trust Daesh [members] no matter how many good intentions they try to show.”
Reverend Adelkello states they were specifically fearful that ISIS intended to “keep women there so that they could be taken freely by the ISIS fighters [since they] had made public statements that according to the Koran it was their right to take the Christian women as they pleased.” He writes that the Christians also “believed they would likely be killed if they showed up.” None did.
ISIS then broadcasted from mosque loudspeakers an ultimatum to the Christians: Leave by July 19 or face death or forced conversion to Islam. The Archbishop says that ISIS also spread the “lie” that he had signed a jizya agreement with ISIS. He believes this was done to deceive Christians into staying in order to hold them for ransom and sexual abuse.
Virtually all the Christians who could do so fled. In Mosul, ISIS destroyed or shut all 45 churches, confiscated Christian homes—which they had already marked with the red letter “N” for Nazarene—and manned checkpoints to steal possessions and cars from the fleeing Christians. A Sunni imam of Mosul who protested their treatment was killed.
Following an ISIS blitzkrieg, the terror-driven mass exodus of Christians was repeated less than three weeks later throughout the rest of Nineveh Province. ISIS made no further jizya announcements in Iraq. The Holocaust Museum report recounts an interview with one Nineveh Christian man, who said he tried to pay jizya so that he could stay with his businesses but ISIS refused, confiscating his businesses after he fled.
The Commission of Inquiry characterized those Christians who didn’t make it out of Nineveh as having chosen to live under ISIS and pay jizya. The Christians on the scene refute this and describe a dire situation. Only 25 to 50 Christians, nearly all reported to be elderly or suffering from infirmities that prevented them from making the trek out, remained behind in Mosul. They are now barred from leaving. Church leaders are adamant that these Christians don’t pay jizya; ISIS has robbed them of all their wealth and otherwise fails to protect or respect them.
The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, who was among those deported from Mosul, is categorical in asserting that no Christian community, or even family, remains in Mosul to pay jizya, and disputes Kurdish media reports that families remain in the city and are paying an annual jizya of $170. On May 11, 2016, the Patriarchate said:
There are no more Christian families in Mosul…only a few individuals who were unable to escape…. Fifty disabled Christians are left at a medical facility because they were unable to escape…[and] it has been impossible so far to rescue them. Some Christians abducted by Daesh [ISIS] are still being held, but no family.
Assyrian Iraqi parliamentarian Yonadam Kanna agrees and adds that elderly Christians who stayed were forcibly converted. The Iraqi Chaldean priest Reverend Douglas Bazi, who aids refugees in Erbil, says that one Mosul family with disabled members was told they could remain Christian if each family member paid $8,000, each month, which was so exorbitant they could not exercise the “option.” Other exiled Church leaders report that the Mosul Christians are now destitute, starving and dying from neglect, isolated in their houses. Needless to say, they can’t go to church, since none remains.
When in the first two weeks of August 2014 ISIS stormed the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain, there were several thousand Christians who didn’t evacuate in time and they were shown no mercy.
An unknown number of the very young and very old died during this escape and, in the panic, were left where they fell. Others, ISIS killed outright. Washington’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick told me that he spoke with an Iraqi Christian woman, now displaced in Kurdistan, who witnessed jihadists crucifying her husband on their home’s front door. A Sunni tribesman told of the fate of one senior left behind, an 80-year-old Nineveh Christian woman whom ISIS burned alive last year for not following its sharia.
Aggregate numbers have yet to be collected for any ISIS depredations. Nineveh’s Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Amel Nona estimates that a “huge number of Christians” who could not get out when ISIS invaded his diocese were killed. Syriac Catholic Patriarch Younan reported that ISIS killed over 500 Christians, all civilians, but the number could be much higher.
Using a State Department questionnaire from the Darfur genocide, the Knights of Columbus interviewed several hundred (out of 120,000) Christian refugees in Kurdistan. As its March 9, 2016 Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East Report documents, survivors reported that their sons, cousins, fathers, or brothers went missing after being led away by Isis jihadists. Based on relatives’ testimony, KofC lawyer Scott Lloyd says: “Dozens and perhaps hundreds of Christians, mostly men, were demanded as hostages in exchange for their families’ [freedom] to leave. They haven’t been seen since.”
While ISIS’s practice of sexual slavery mostly targeted the Yazidis, Archbishop Moshi states that over 20 Christian girls and women were captured and remain held, despite Church ransom offers of $30,000—far above the slave prices on the ISIS-published list. One was three-year-old Christina, whom, her mother learned from a cell phone call from another captured Christian woman, was sold at a Mosul slave market. In another case, three months after being kidnapped, a daughter called her mother to say that she had been “converted” to Islam and “married” to a Muslim man.
A Christian mother who managed to escape told of horrific abuse at a sex-slave detention center, under the direction of a sheikh who performed “marriages,” in accordance with ISIS’s strict rules. She told Minority Rights Group International:
That night I was married to eight different men and divorced eight times. Each man raped me three or four times. When all this was over, we were taken back to the room where all the girls were being held. They made us walk naked through the big room where all the men were sitting. We were barely able to walk. This scenario was repeated every week—it was like a nightmare.
Author Mindy Belz interviewed several Nineveh Christians escapees. She relates: “One father described being tortured while his wife and two children were threatened after the family refused to deny their faith.” ISIS militants raped the mother and 12-year-old daughter of another family, causing the father, who was forced to watch, to commit suicide. Father Bazi says that many Christian women and girls were raped but are too shamed to reveal it.
Forced conversion to Islam was so prevalent that special ministries were established in Kurdistan to counsel escapees burdened by the guilt. In September 2014, a family of 12 Assyrian Christians who spent a month under ISIS in Bartella reported being robbed, forcibly converted before a sharia court, and put under house arrest for 17 days without food. They told of seeing a badly beaten Assyrian man who refused to convert being bound and driven off in a truck—to be killed, they assumed. In another report, 14 men in a group of 48 Christians who had been held hostage for two weeks converted to Islam after ISIS militants tried to rape the girls, including a 9 year old.
By August 2014, Patriarch Younan had begun pronouncing the Christian situation a “genocide.” Virtually the entire Christian population, and every trace of its unique 2,000-year-old civilization, has been eradicated from the ISIS-controlled Nineveh Province, the historic homeland of Iraqi Christianity. The vast majority of Nineveh’s Christians—like the vast majority of Yazidis—has been completely dispossessed and driven from their homes into Kurdistan or across the borders.
Raqqa and Qaryatayn, Syria
Raqqa is upheld as the prime example of an ISIS-controlled area implementing a jizya arrangement with Christians, due to a dhimmi contract posted on the Internet in February 2014 that set out the purported jizya terms. But, as evidenced by the blurred-out signatures of some 20 Raqqa Christians at the bottom, only a few dozen Christians had survived the prior seven months of ISIS occupation and al-Nusra’s before that. As in Mosul, when ISIS raised the jizya issue, the Christian community was already virtually extinct. Their numbers have dwindled since, and now the dozen or so left are all elderly, held as captives, and used as human shields.
The dhimmi document presumed the existence of churches with its detailed list of forbidden things to do involving them: bans against ringing bells, displaying crosses, and making repairs. Yet ISIS had destroyed all the churches and none was open. The last cleric left when ISIS arrived. It is in Raqqa where the Italian Jesuit Reverend Paolo Dall’Oglio was presumably murdered by jihadis the year before.
The State Department’s former counterterrorism expert Ambassador Alberto Fernandez describes the Raqqa jizya document as essentially a pathetic “Salafi Caliphate publicity stunt”:
[T]here are no images whatsoever of what could be described as normal Christian life in ISIS-controlled territory—no functioning churches, no monasteries or working priests, and no Christian families or Christian schools—all of which had existed throughout Islamic history.
Reports in spring 2016 state that the few remaining Christians were under house arrest. Voice of America mentions the dhimmi contract but then states:
IS has also confiscated their land and used them as human shields to deter international coalition and Syrian warplanes from hitting its positions in Raqqa and elsewhere.
Fernandez explains that ISIS’s leader raised the jizya issue in Raqqa to appear more “Caliph-like.”
The pact seems more aspirational, and more about preparing the stage for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s assuming the mantle of the Caliph, which happened only four months later, than a real document regulating the life of an actual community. Just as the Caliph Omar in the 7th century produced an agreement to regulate the life of a protected minority, so would the Caliph-in-Waiting do the same. The only thing missing were actual Christians.
The respected outlet “Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered” that monitors ISIS in its “capital” also repeats the jizya terms but makes clear that these payments did not spare the city’s Christian minority from ISIS’s brutal bigotry. “Christians are the most vulnerable group in the country,” observes the group’s Hussam Issa.
John was a college-age Christian whose family agreed to the “jizya” arrangement. He related that he survived for 18 months by carrying an official ISIS protection document obtained by extortion payments, which, using ISIS’s terminology, he called “jizya.” John described living in “constant fear,” forced to conform to ISIS haircut and dress codes and behavior rules. While he was able to meet socially with other Christians, he was unable to go to church or receive the sacraments. He relates how he once watched a street demonstration with crowds shouting “Allahu Akbar”: “But when an IS [Islamic State] man saw me being silent, he stopped the car. I had to say ‘Allahu Akbar’ too.” He made his secret escape one night in early 2016—the last young Christian to leave.
Raqqa’s female Christians faced an even tougher fate. ISIS defectors report that the rape of Christian “infidels” was common and approved by the ISIS shariacourt. Some were girls as young as 12 years old.
The touted Raqqa “jizya” arrangement proved to be a deception. Last October, ISIS made a similar propaganda show in Qaryatayn. ISIS’s publicity campaignsurrounding the dhimmi contract signing there was extensive, as detailed by MEMRI. In an ISIS video of the signing, the narrator proclaims:
The Caliph of the Muslims displayed kindness and generosity, and agreed to accept their jizya tax, and to allow them to live under the rule of the Caliphate as part of the dhimma contract.”
There, too, ISIS claims were false.
That fall, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Jean Kawak attested that the Qaryatayn Christians were being “treated like slaves.” He said they were held there against their will. The facts revealed in April 2016, after the town’s liberation, support those assessments.
As reported by Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, the 300 Christians remaining in the city after ISIS captured it were immediately subjected to abuse and violence by the jihadists. He said 21 were killed trying to escape, or refusing to convert to Islam or submit to the “caliphate’s” rules.
In October 2015, with Muslims’ help, Qaryatayn’s Christians set up an underground railroad and began escaping in small groups to Homs. They sent out the young girls first after being warned that jihadi leaders desired them as “wives.” Their priest Jacques Mourad was imprisoned and tortured and the town’s 5th-century Mar Elian monastery and churches were demolished. The bishops continue to try to ransom a group of the town’s Christians, whom ISIS imprisoned elsewhere last fall.
The Commission takes ISIS propaganda at face value and asserts, without evidence, that “Christian communities” are living under ISIS today and payingjizya. It mistakenly credits the terror group with making an exception from its standard ultra-violence for the Christian minority, out of respect for “People of the Book,” and seeking to coexist with them through traditional jizyaarrangements. It accepts as fact that ISIS does not intend to destroy the Christian community. It offers unfounded reassurances that ISIS attacks against “vulnerable” Christians are not religiously motivated. And its unsupported summary conclusion, laden with such false premises, precludes any finding that ISIS is waging genocide against Middle Eastern Christians. It only refrained from repeating the ISIS video’s praise of al Baghdadi’s “kindness and generosity.”
In truth, there is a complete absence of intact Christian communities in ISIS territory, which is prima facie evidence that there was no jizya option for the Christians. Testimony and reports from the Christian survivors and their clergy confirm this.
What ISIS refers to as “jizya” is extortion and ransom from a few disabled or elderly individuals, and others who did not escape in time. Those who did not escape have been killed or forced to become jihadi “brides,” human shields, slaves, hostages, or Muslims against their will. They are barred from practicing their Christian faith.
ISIS not only intends to destroy the Christian communities under its control, it has done so, and should be held accountable for the genocide against the Christians, as well as for that against the Yazidis. The Commission of Inquiry needs to answer why, in its conclusion on the Christians, it obscured the dangerous ideology of the Islamic State and served as an echo chamber for its propaganda.
Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. Her forthcoming report, The ISIS Genocide of Middle Eastern Christian Minorities and Its Jizya Propaganda Ploy, will be available next week at www.hudson.org
Would Russia Use a Veto To Stop A Genocide Resolution?
Letter from the Russian Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Alexander Yakovenko: – where he calls for the use of “international law” and that “Russia agrees that it is extremely important in these processes to ensure equal rights and freedoms for various religious and ethnic groups.”
At a time of deepening crisis in SYRIA and PAKISTAN, AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED is holding a briefing with eye-witness testimonies from two of their project partners.
Date: Monday, 17th October
Venue: House of Lords Committee Room G
PAKISTAN: ARCHBISHOP SEBASTIAN SHAW of Lahore.
Head of the largest Catholic diocese in Pakistan, he led the
Church’s response to the Easter Day 2016 Lahore Massacre
and other atrocities affecting Christians and other minorities.
SYRIA: SISTER ANNIE DEMERJIAN of Aleppo.
Providing emergency help in areas worst-affected
by violence and acute poverty, Sister Annie leads
a team of volunteers who go house-to-house, providing
food, shelter and medicine at great risk to their safety.
Aid to the Church in Need is providing emergency and pastoral help for those suffering persecution both in Syria, Pakistan and 135 other countries around the world.
Interest in the event is expected to be high. To secure your place, please notify us by contacting Johnny Dowling on 0208 661 5154 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Further details about the speakers and the event are available on request.
Genocide Determination Bill [HL]
13 June 2016
A Bill to provide for the High Court of England and Wales to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide; and for the subsequent referral of such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Alton of Liverpool, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Click here for the text:
Mosul: Women from Iraqi Religious Minorities
14 June 2016
- Lord Alton of Liverpool
- To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of the public burning to death, in Mosul, by ISIS, of 19 women from Iraqi religious minorities.
- The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con)
- My Lords, we are aware of reports of the burning to death of up to 19 Yazidi women in Mosul. We are not able to verify these reports, but it is clear that Daesh has carried out appalling atrocities against Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and other communities in Iraq and Syria. Ultimately the only way to stop Daesh carrying out such abuses is to liberate all the people currently under its control.
- Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
- My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply, may I tell her that yesterday, speaking here, a young Yazidi woman, Pari Ibrahim, who has seen 21 men and 19 women from her family murdered, described the mourning which has gripped her community in the aftermath of last week’s primeval burnings—which were driven, of course, by ISIS’s ideological hatred of difference? That young woman asked—and I would like to ask the Minister the same question—what we were doing to free the more than 3,000 other Yazidi and Christian women and girls held captive by ISIS. Why has not a single person, including returning jihadists, yet been brought to justice? Following the unanimous vote of the House of Commons two months ago declaring this to be a genocide, have we raised this in the Security Council? Are we creating the judicial mechanisms necessary to bring to justice those responsible for these abhorrent and wicked crimes?
- Baroness Anelay of St Johns
- My Lords, there were at least four questions there, but in deference to the bravery of Pari, whom I have met on other occasions and met again last week to discuss these matters, I say that I do not doubt the determination and sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in raising these matters. The House should not underestimate the determination of the UK Government to be able to resolve the horrific experiences which Pari’s family has seen and which have been experienced by other groups, whether it is LGBT people being thrown off rooftops or women being undermined in their communities. We are making our best efforts with allies around the world to find new ways of collecting information and of working at the United Nations to bring justice to those who so richly need it.
- Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
- My Lords, it is hard to find language adequate to describe the events in Mosul last week. Clear evidence is coming out of that part of the country that those women were put into cages and set on fire. They burned screaming for their lives in the presence of huge crowds which were forced into the squares to watch this happening as a lesson to them all. The women were there because they had refused to have sex with their ISIS captors. Yazidi women who have been captured are being used as sex slaves. They are appearing on platforms to be sold. They are also being subjected to repeated rape. If ever anything was a genocide, this is. As our nation sits on the Security Council with a special position as one of the five with a veto vote, I wonder whether we could have this placed on the Security Council agenda, which does not involve any vetoes. We could have it on the permanent agenda. Are we doing anything to secure that place on the agenda for this issue?
- Baroness Anelay of St Johns
- My Lords, it is a fact that Daesh uses these most appalling treatments and murders in order to subjugate people. It is therefore important that when we consider them, we look very carefully at how we communicate what has been happening and that we also look carefully at the evidence of what has been happening. Taking a political action is a matter of a moment; it does not deliver justice. The commitment of this Government to delivering that justice is absolute. It consumes the work that I do and the work of those in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in other departments who are helping me and who have great expertise, because we know that it is only by delivering justice in that area that we can not only help people there but ensure that there is more security elsewhere.
- The Lord Bishop of Worcester
- My Lords, at the wonderful parliamentary prayer breakfast in Westminster Hall that I attended this morning along with 750 others, including 150 parliamentarians, many of them from this House, we were addressed by Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK. He spoke movingly of the plight of Christians in the Middle East. While I acknowledge that the vast majority of those killed by ISIS are Muslims, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will work ever more closely with the leaders of the appallingly persecuted Christian community in the Middle East, such as Bishop Angaelos, and other religious leaders there in order to learn their perspective on what is happening?
- Baroness Anelay of St Johns
- The right reverend Prelate makes a vital point, and indeed I do give that undertaking. I was very fortunate that a couple of weeks ago Bishop Angaelos invited me to the headquarters of the Coptic Church in Stevenage to discuss matters with him there, and he subsequently kindly ensured that here in the Palace I was able to meet senior representatives of Christian faiths from Syria, who very bravely travelled to this country to give me information. We will continue to do that.
- Baroness Berridge (Con)
- My Lords, in 2015 the United Kingdom gave refuge to 322 Iraqis, which includes those who applied for asylum here and those who entered under the UN Gateway and Mandate schemes. The 20,000 allocation of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme is of course open only to Syrian passport holders, so Yazidis are ineligible to claim purely because they hold the wrong passport. Please could the Minister raise urgently with her colleagues in the Home Office the need for a modest extension of the scheme so that Iraq’s persecuted religious minorities, who are equally affected by the actions of IS, can be offered some form of refuge here?
- Baroness Anelay of St Johns
- My noble friend makes a very humanitarian point, and I agree that it is worth taking up. The Home Office’s Gateway, Mandate and children at risk resettlement schemes are not nationality-specific, so they could indeed cover Yazidis. With regard to internally displaced persons, which the majority of Yazidis are, it is a fact that as a matter of international law those seeking international protection have to be first outside their country of origin. We will continue to look at how best we can deliver security to those who have been displaced by Daesh, but security really means defeating Daesh; that is what it is all about.
- Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD)
- My Lords, it is mercifully unlikely that this particularly unsavoury episode actually took place. None the less, the Yazidi Spiritual Council reminded me yesterday that, as the Minister knows, the Yazidi faith is now the second largest in Iraq. It is a distant cousin of Christianity and extremely ancient. In order to try to stop the Yazidis being totally wiped out—this is the 72nd episode in a millennium and a half—extraordinary action must be taken, and it cannot just be overseas aid. Would the Minister consider putting together a small group of Ministers from other departments—I would gladly offer to help—to set up a religious tolerance programme internationally and in the United Kingdom, led by Britain? We have a uniquely tolerant attitude towards different faiths. If the Yazidis are to survive at all, we have to make a unique effort.
- Baroness Anelay of St Johns
- The noble Baroness makes an important point. I can say that we as a Government hope to play our own small part in doing something towards that in the autumn. On 19 and 20 October we are going to hold a conference for all faiths on freedom of religion and belief, and we are going to be examining the very points that she put forward.
May 2016: Read the latest Government replies and the Prime Minister’s Statement that this is genoicde. Go to:
Published on April 28th in The Catholic Times
Last week the House of Commons unanimously passed an unprecedented Motion of historic significance. By 278 votes to zero MPs declared that the systematic targeting of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq and Syria is a genocide.
The Motion, moved by the Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Congleton’s MP, Fiona Bruce, enjoyed strong cross-party support – but was opposed by the Government.
Any Minister, or MP who serves as a Private Parliamentary Secretary, or who is part of what is called the Government Payroll would have had to resign if they had entered the Division Lobby in favour of the Genocide Motion – and none did.
Ironically, Tobias Ellwood MP, the Government Minister who was sent to tell the House of Commons why MPs should reject the Motion, has personally declared that “I believe that genocide has taken place.”
He is not alone in believing that a genocide is underway – and nor is the House of Commons.
Other legislative bodies such as the European Parliament and the American House of Representatives, have already passed their own Genocide Declarations but our own Government stubbornly cling to the argument that it does not want to be the judge or jury and that declarations of genocide are “matters for the courts”
Over the past two years during which I have been campaigning for this Declaration the Government have repeatedly resorted to this buck passing mantra – simultaneously refusing to provide a trigger for a referral to the courts. So it becomes a circular argument.
Nearly two years ago, on 23 July 2014, I warned in an opinion piece in the Times that:
“The last Christian has been expelled from Mosul … The light of religious freedom, along with the entire Christian presence, has been extinguished in the Bible’s ‘great city of Nineveh’ … This follows the uncompromising ultimatum by the jihadists of Isis to convert or die”.
I wrote that,
“the world must wake up urgently to the plight of the ancient churches throughout the region who are faced with the threat of mass murder and mass displacement”.
But despite its duty to protect vulnerable minorities, the world did not wake up and the systematic annihilation has continued. For those caught up in these barbaric events, the stakes are utterly existential.
Last year, 200 Assyrian Christians in the Khabour river valley were kidnapped and jihadi websites showed graphic executions of some of the group, warning that others would be executed if the ransoms remained unpaid.
Last August, the ancient Saint Eliane monastery in central Syria, which was founded more than 1,500 years ago, was destroyed by ISIS and dozens of Syriac Christians were abducted.
Last year, a UN report said that ISIS continues, “to deliberately and wantonly loot and destroy places of religious and cultural significance … which ISIS considers as un-Islamic. Generally, these sites are looted before being destroyed”.
The motive is to destroy history, to destroy diversity and to destroy difference. And ISIS boasts that this is their declared intention.
Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, says that two-thirds of Syrian Christians have either been killed or driven away from his country.
One 80-year-old Christian woman who stayed in Nineveh was reportedly burned alive.
In another Christian family, the mother and 12 year-old daughter were raped by ISIS militants, leading the father, who was forced to watch, to commit suicide.
One refugee described how she witnessed ISIS crucify her husband on the door of their home. There is evidence of mass executions, beheadings, crucifixions, mass graves, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, torture, mutilation, forced recruitment of children, and confiscation of homes and land.
Little wonder that last July, on his visit to Bolivia, Pope Francis said that what is underway against these beleaguered communities is a genocide.
Hillary Clinton agrees: “What is happening is genocide, deliberately aimed at destroying not only the lives but wiping out the existence of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East in territory controlled by ISIS”
Clinton’s successor as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, says: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide… Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.”
In March, in a leading article The Times insisted that the destruction of Christians from the Middle East “now amounts to nothing less than genocide“ while The Telegraph asked: “America has finally acknowledged that Christians and other religious minorities are being butchered in the Middle East. Why does the UK government not do the same?
In December last I organised letters to the Prime Minister, signed by 75 Members of both Houses, including the former heads of our armed forces and intelligence agency, the former Lord Chancellor, and eminent judicial figures. The Government were urged to name this genocide for what it is.
The Prime Minister again replied to say that “genocide is a matter of legal rather than political opinion. We as the Government are not the prosecutor, the judge or the jury”.
But he has based this statement on erroneous advice.
Article VIII of the 1948 Convention on Genocide, categorically states:
“Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide”
The Convention was itself the culmination of years of campaigning by the Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin – who saw his entire family annihilated in the Holocaust. The Convention insists that “international co-operation” is needed “to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge” and it defines genocide as, “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
That is precisely what is underway against Christians and other minorities and if, in our generation, we fail to act against this contemporary scourge we might just as well rip up the Genocide Convention as a worthless piece of paper.
Nine months ago at an event organised in Parliament by the Catholic Charity, Aid to the Church in Need – and attended by Minister Ellwood – we heard the story of a Christian pastor in a village near Aleppo who was told to convert or he would die. He was forced to watch his 12 year-old son tortured before his eyes. Neither he nor his son renounced their faith, and both were executed.
Last week, on the night before the House of Commons vote, I shared a platform with a 16-year-old Yazidi girl, Ekhlas, whose harrowing testimony deeply affected MPs – with frequent references during the debate to her account or murder, rape, imprisonment, brainwashing and forced conversion.
John Pontifex of Aid to the Church In Need, has recently returned from Syria, and also spoke at that meeting. He says: “Would Mr Cameron still refuse to use the g-word if, like me, he had met the young Syrian Christian father of five who was kidnapped, told to convert at gunpoint and who watched helpless as icons were smashed on the ground in front of his face?”
He argues that recognition of genocide, “would throw a lifeline of hope and show that there are people who care about what has happened and are determined to bring these people to justice, sending a signal very clearly that the world will not tolerate this butchery”.
Surely, if anything marks us out from the barbarism of ISIS it is our belief in the rule of law and our accountability before courts of law.
We also have the opportunity to make a step change by moving beyond aerial bombardment to a consideration of justice, to demand that, guided by our commitment to the rule of law, we will bring those responsible for this genocide to justice.
While the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over the four most serious international crimes, including genocide, in order to act, the Court requires a referral from the UN Security Council. Britain, which is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has not asked it to do this.
One year ago the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court lamented the absence of a referral of the situation from the UN Security Council.
A year later there has still been no referral.
In 2015 the Government told me: “We are not submitting any evidence of possible genocide against Yazidis and Christians to international courts, nor have we been asked to”.
The Government say they are frightened that another country – presumably Russia or China – would veto such a proposal. This is implausible.
What those countries vetoed in 2014 was a motion on general military action in Syria not a resolution to prosecute ISIS for acts of genocide .
What is far more likely and plausible is that we are frightened of upsetting our “allies” in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has never acknowledged the deaths of one million Armenian Christians in the “slow burn” genocide which commenced one hundred years ago and which continues under a different guise today.
I always reflect that as he planned his Final Solution Hitler was comforted by the thought which he expressed in the words: “who now remembers the Armenians?”
Last week’s historic House of Commons Resolution is a recognition of the past failure to name such genocides before or while they were occurring.
I have personally visited the genocide sites in Rwanda—a salutary and chilling experience.
I am always struck that Bill Clinton and the British Ministers of the day say that their failure to identify and take action to prevent that genocide, which led to the loss of 1 million Tutsi lives, was their worst foreign affairs mistake.
In the past two years, two serving Foreign Secretaries have similarly lamented the failure of the international community to decry the genocides in both Rwanda and Bosnia quickly enough, despite the overwhelming and compelling evidence that existed.
William Hague, speaking as Foreign Secretary on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, said:
“The truth is that our ability to prevent conflict is still hampered by a gap between the commitments states have made and the reality of their actions”.
His successor, Philip Hammond, said last year that the horror of Srebrenica,
“demands that we all try to understand why those who placed their hope in the international community on the eve of genocide found that those hopes were dashed”.
History proves that once the word genocide is used to designate heinous and targeted crimes against sections of humanity, as in Yugoslavia or in Cambodia, it is followed by swift international action to stop those atrocities
In passing their unanimous genocide resolution the House of Commons has tried to learn from these lessons of history.
If what is happening to Yazidis and Assyrian Christians doesn’t meet the high technical standard of what constitutes a genocide it’s hard to imagine what would.
Sickened by this visceral barbarism and brutality and, in asking for the evidence to be placed before the Security Council and the international courts the House of Commons, the European Parliament and American Congress are right to force the hand of Governments.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian theologian executed by the Nazis, said:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”.
The House of Commons has spoken and it has acted.
MPs were right to assert Parliament’s will.
For the Government to ignore this vote would amount to contempt of Parliament and a betrayal of those who are suffering so grievously.
David Alton – Lord Alton of Liverpool – is an Independent Crossbench Peer. The full House of Commons and House of Lords debates – and some of the testimonies referred to – may be read on his web site: www.davidalton.net
Tabled on 27 April and due for answer by 12 May.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government when they anticipate being in a position to reply to the representations made to Lord Bates and to Lord Keen of Elie about Syrian Christian families seeking asylum after the beheading of family members. HL8013
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the attacks on 26 April on the Christian neighbourhood of Sulaymaniyah in Aleppo, and of reports that at least eight children were among those killed. HL8014